Azar: Short-term plans 'absolutely not' an attempt to destabilize the individual market

HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters it's his obligation to "make insurance as affordable as it can be for people." (Rose Meltzer)

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar strongly disagrees with the notion that a recent rule to expand short-term, limited-duration (STLD) plans are part of an attempt to destabilize the individual market.

In a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Azar said the plans are “absolutely not” intended to destabilize the market, and he does not believe that they will.

“The Affordable Care Act is sabotaging itself by its own structure,” Azar said.

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Instead, he said, the plans are options “particularly for individuals in transition who do not have employer insurance, for whom the Affordable Care Act has crowded them out in terms of availability or affordability.”

RELATED: Trump administration finalizes expansion of short-term health plans

The final rule came amid some signs the individual market is stabilizing. In many states, including Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona, more insurers are expected to offer plans. And while premiums will continue to rise in most places, some states, like Colorado, anticipate milder hikes than they’ve seen in prior years.

This week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina filed a 4.1% decrease to ACA premiums for 2019.

Some analysts have said expanding STLD plans will weaken the individual market by drawing away younger, healthier consumers. By HHS' own estimate, 200,000 people will leave the Exchanges in 2019, while 600,000 people enroll in STLD plans. An estimated 400,000 will leave the exchange in 2020 in favor of short-term plans.

But Azar anticipates otherwise. The majority of Exchange enrollees—87%—receive subsidies, so few will opt for STLD plans instead, he said.

Still, he said, the Trump administration will continue working to advance their overall vision for health insurance.

“I believe it’s my obligation to do what I can to make insurance as affordable as it can be for people, to make it as available, as choiceful, as state-based, as flexible, as private-sector, as fiscally-sustainable for taxpayers as it can be," he said.

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